A P P E N D I X
THESES FOR THE CRITIQUE OF THE POST-RATIONAL CRITIQUE OF REASON
1. The proof that all my experiences of reality are subjective (or conditioned) interpretations goes like this: (a) I see something, and I say, "That is A." (b) Further experience, or communication with others, leads me to believe, for a variety of reasons, that I was seeing this thing as A. Either I myself start seeing the thing differently or else I learn that others see it differently, and I then conclude I did not see A directly but instead interpreted an obj ect as A, since it might be interpreted as A' or B. (c) Many such experiences occur, and I become convinced that all my seeing is really seeing-as. All my perceiving now looks like interpreting. It occurs to me that all we have to work with are interpretations, grounded in individual acts of meaning-making or else in communal acts of meaning-making. But notice that, while the so-called objects of perception are now said never to be directly seen, the acts of perception in their similarities and differences are seen. How is it that I can't know the nature of things but I can know the nature of interpretations of things? How is that I can't see how reality is constituted but I can see how it is that various interpreters are engaged in various acts of interpreting reality? If reality is an inference with a problematic status, who can fail to see that "the social construction of reality" by communities of interpreters is also an inferred reality with exactly the same status? If there is anything problematic about the description of reality, then any description of "the social construction of reality" is equally problematic for precisely the same reasons. 2. How can the finite mind know that it is finite? How can my consciousness know that it is limited? By knowing that other consciousnesses exist with different contents? But to know this, I have to be conscious of these other consciousnesses. I have to include them, as it were, among the contents of my consciousness. If I do that, I can't be said to have gone outside my consciousness at all. The proof that my consciousness is limited seems to depend on my grasp that there are minds outside my own, but I find that, according to one theory of subjectivity, I can't get outside my own to be aware of them. Something must be wrong with this theory. If I can be aware of other minds (whose independent existence lets me know that my mind is not absolute but only relative), then I have escaped the supposed limits or constraints that keep me within my point of view. If I can see the limits of my mind as limits, I have to be aware in some sense of that which limits it, and that is to be aware of what a completely subjective view of things cannot be aware of. To believe in the existence of what is beyond the confines of my point of view is to believe in objectivity. To be aware of the problems posed by the existence of multiple points of view—a favorite postmodernist theme—is to affirm, paradoxically, the existence of an objective reality. 271
3. To believe that there are many different points of view, each confined within its own boundaries and impervious to the others, is to believe in a reality that is independent of any of the points of view that are being contemplated or imagined. To survey with equanimity or alarm, the prospect of pluralism is to see an objective situation. If one is not seeing an objective situation, then one must be engaged in a solipsistic inventory of the contents of one's own consciousness, and the thought of different viewpoints is a mere fantasy. If the array of different viewpoints is posited in all seriousness, objective reality is simultaneously posited. 4. If I use reason to demonstrate that all reasoning is limited or hampered by factors that reason itself cannot account for, I shall have to deny the validity of my own demonstration or else revise its conclusion. A rational critique of reason—one that proposes to establish the limits of reason—by establishing the limits transcends the limits. If I can't transcend my own point of view, I can't be made aware that I even have a point of view. 5. But can't I think about the conditions of my own thinking? Certainly. I can describe those conditions and I can do so accurately, so long as my description of them is such that it does not rule out, or declare to be impossible, what the description itself is clearly capable of doing, which is to say, so long as what I claim about my thinking is not contradicted by the thinking that produces my claim. A statement about the principles of my thinking is possible because I can be conscious of my previous states of consciousness by inspecting their products. Even if I should find that all (or most) of these products are irrational, my power to know that this is the case affirms implicitly the validity of reason. As soon as I recognize this, I realize that all of my states of consciousness can't be irrational because the consciousness that performs the inspection is itself accepted as rational. Thus, I can believe that much of my thinking is irrational, but I can never believe that all of it is so. Philosophy is the building up of as much unflawed thinking as possible by separating the unflawed from the flawed, or the rational from the irrational. The possibility of doing philosophy is established by the possibility of making this separation, or rather by the impossibility of not making it. 6. None of the empirical accounts of the ways in which thought is limited or hampered—including the accounts given by Deconstruction, the New Pragmatism, and the New Historicism—can succeed in undermining this separation. Instead, they all presuppose it. As thought-projects, whatever power they possess depends absolutely on maintaining it. The same is true of Marxism, Feminism, and Psychoanalysis, which offer empirical accounts of the origins or conditions of seemingly rational thought in an effort to show that such thought is always impaired by misconceptions or a false consciousness of things. To the extent that these accounts of the origins of thought are accurate, they cannot invalidate thinking. All they can do is to supply information about the empirical circumstances of thinking. Such information relates to the validity of thinking in the same way that the observation that Husserl, Einstein, and Freud were Jews relates to the validity of phenomenology, relativity physics, and psychoanalysis. The attempt to undermine reason by giving an expose of the empirical circumstances of thinking is, in effect, a type of ad hominem argument which has recently become extremely popular. The ad hominem argument looks past the content of thinking. It is interested above all in
demonstrating that the content of thinking is impaired by what may be inferred concerning the personal situations of the thinkers themselves. 1. The chief problem with all these post-rational exposes of reason (aside from the fact that they represent versions of the ad hominem argument) is that each of them either undermines, or else is contradicted by, its own implicit rationality. None of the postrational schools of thought can suppose that its own insights are seriously impaired by the factors that impair everybody else's insights. Thus, a psychoanalyst could not plausibly argue that psychoanalysis as such would be invalidated if it could be shown that Freud was in the grip of a delusive anal retentiveness when he fantasized the concept of the unconscious mind. Nor could a Marxist convincingly demonstrate that Marx's insight into the dynamics of class conflict would be rendered nugatory if it were discovered that its true origin was Marx's need to rationalize his own personal inability to succeed as a bourgeois moneymaker. Nor could a feminist take pleasure in showing that feminist analyses of gender bias are best explained as examples of gender bias, so that Feminism itself may be understood as a sort of flanking movement in the battle of the sexes or as an expression of Nietzschean slave-resentment, rather than as an accurate description of the relations that have existed between men and women. In fact, the empirical circumstances of particular thinkers have nothing to do with the validity of thought per se. The truth of Psychoanalysis or Marxism or Feminism (or any of the other postrational schools) does not stand or fall depending on whether or not their major proponents can be shown to have been afflicted by neurosis, class hatred, or sex bias. If the thinking that has gone into these projects can be said to hold up, the circumstances of their proponents are simply irrelevant. The same is true of the thinking that has gone into other projects. 8. All thinking has origins, but not all thinking is flawed. The origin of a thought in and of itself can neither validate nor invalidate the content of a thought. 9. The ad hominem argument favored by many recent thinkers leads to an infinite regress of refutations. Writer A's views are thought to be compromised by their empirical origins as revealed by Writer B. But Writer B's views on Writer A are themselves compromised by their own empirical origins as revealed by Writer C. And so on. In actual practice, the regress is not infinite because it is not permitted to unfold. We stop somewhere with some writer's views about one thing or another. These views are simply accepted on the basis of their validity or truth according to criteria that have nothing to do with the criticism of their empirical origins. Obviously, it is wrong to think that Writer B is less mystified than Writer A or that Writer C is less mystified than Writer B or that the further one goes with this kind of analysis the more enlightened one necessarily becomes. 10. The contemporary thinker's search for the empirical origins or the shaping circumstances of thinking represents a not unreasonable belief in the operations of causality. The search for causes is a large part, but only a part, of the project of Western thought. None of the post-rationalists is able to offer a fundamental criticism of the project as a whole, because none is outside the project, looking down at it or back on it. All of them are inside the project, inside Reason. The demonstration that this is so is the critique of post-rational criticism.